Bad Back

I am a 56 year old who is recovering from a sore back…I am ready to give up golf and try my hand at kayaking…is this a wise decision???I still have work to do on my core but I continue to get stronger…Any information or advice would be appreciated…Thanks,Bob

How long?
I would guess it depends what kind of “sore back” problem you’ve had, and how long ago you resolved the problem.

I had two back surgeries, 25 years ago. Today I can paddle. My back is still sometimes sensitive, but kayaking does not bother it at all.

Go for it, but it’s your back
I met a guy who had a herniated disk (as he claimed), pulling his kayak out of the water. It was a 30-lb Kevlar boat. Wouldn’t let me help him load the boat on his car. So, weight is one thing to consider. Also look for comfortable seat with a high back.

Sore backs can be from many things, and can have many different levels of consequences. Many folks find getting in and out of canoes significantly easier than getting in and out of kayaks. Rent one of each and see what you think. Also, be aware that there’s all kinds of seat modifications for either style.

What’s wrong with your back? How does it affect everyday activities like walking, lifting, sitting for long periods, etc?

I’d recommend canoeing for someone with a bad back. The canoe offers a much broader range of comfortable positions. In a kayak there is only one position that is good for paddling. Locking your lower body in a fixed position is not good for your back.

Another alternative is rowing. It works your entire body even it you are rowing a fixed seat boat. However, strenuous rowing can strain your back, so you need to pick a boat that is easy to handle and be wary of rowing in rough conditions until you have some experience.

Rowing on a machine or the water and a set of special exercises outlined in the book “Treat your Own Back” has been what has helped me stay mobile over the past few years. Some years I feel well enough to get back in a kayak because I really used to love it, but in less than a minth I’m hurting again and going back to rowing and canoeing.

Your results may vary, but you can rent kayaks to try all over the place these days so you can try one for and easy one hour paddle and see hour you feel.

Individual experiences vary
I have three compressing lumbar discs, but when I paddle regularly my back actually feels better after being on the water. Torso rotation and all that. My legs are another matter.


I would think that easy nature type
paddling would be good for it, but what about taking the kayak on and off the vehicle?

For what it is worth, I am slowly approaching the ancient age, and I am a firm believer of “Use it or loose it”!

Only you know what your back can tolerate.

Why not rent a few times and see what happens.



In my case…
… I found the kayak to be easier on my back than a canoe. Having had back surgery twice did make me aware of what was working and what wasn’t working. I think the secrect to “back healthy” paddling in a kayak is finding one that “fits” properly. So many different seat and back rest options to choose from. If he can find a seat set up that hits his “sweet spot,” he’ll be just fine. If not he’ll be miserable, or, at least, sore.

Bad back
I have several issues with my back but with appropriate stretching and conditioning my back enjoys kayaking.

As far as the getting the yak on and off the vehicle, I use a Hullavator by Thule on my Honda Element for a 94# tandem. One person can easily raise and lower the yak from waste height to the roof of the vehicle. The rack is expensive but if you have a bad back, a very short wife or other challenges it is priceless. A well built kayak cart can also be a back saver. Moving the yak can be done by one hand easily and covering 100 yards of parking lot is a since.

I would go for it!

my back is worse standing or walking
The phase three Wilderness seat, once you have it adjusted is okay.

I can barely stand still in a line in a store, my back will hurt so bad tears come to my eyes. I refuse to wait in line if I have to stand, because it hurts.

Often it hurts to walk, but I’ve found if I fill up a Camelback with water and wear it - I can walk longer without pain.

Be careful lifting your boat on and off your vehicle or get help. I tug at mine, then lean it on the van and push it up and over onto the Thule stuff. When I take it off I find that tugging and pushing from a footstool until it slides down the back of the van works.

I figure I have to paddle more to make up for the fact I can’t walk very far these days, getting older and my lower back aged before I did.

Paddling with a bad back
I had a spinal fusion on my lower back 12 years ago, and I took up kayaking in May. I will be 55 this October. I sometimes have problems with my right leg’s nerve hurting if I am in the kayak for over three hours at a time, but up to that things are fine. And after a 10-15 minute stretch/walk then it is fine. It does make a difference as to what type of seat you have in your kayak. My Perception Sundance is brand new and has the type of back band that can be adjusted on the fly, as can the foot rests. So I can adjust how I sit several times throughout the paddle.

I put my Sundance 12 up on my 4Runner all by myself with no problem, but I always use a step stool to start out the process of putting it up on the rack or taking it off. I have found that my back is getting stronger, and if you paddle using your stomach and torso rotation, it will help your back.


helped my back!
My lower back can act up now and then (several years now) and when I began kayaking last summer, I noticed an improvement! It really seemed to “loosen” it up. Not all seats, however, feel good to me - I love the seats in the Wilderness Tempests (and their other lines have similar seats). I use the expensive Hullavator rack - a lot cheaper than chiropractic bills and replacing the side mirror every now and then!

Bad Back and Kayaking
I am 54 and I was hospitalized for disk rupture about 10 years ago. I bought my kayak when I was around 48. I told the store person that if I could pick the thing up by myself and put it in my van, I’d buy it. I could, so I did. It was a Beaver by Old Town…only 8 1/2 feet then. Now it’s 9 (My first was stolen) I no longer have a van, I have a subaru, and I cannot put the boat up on top by myself (The Hullavator sounds interesting, I have no idea what that is.)

My kayak feels great once I get down in it…I feel a little klutzy getting in and out… due to stiffness and carrying more weight than I would like I walk a lot and teach/do yoga…my back doesn’t bother me most of the time anymore. I can sit in my kayak for three or four hours and feel perfectly comfortable. When I get out, I’m a bit stiff…but no more than I would be sitting in a chair for that long!

I bought an inflatable kayak to use for possible training for a triathalon…but forget it… I absolutely did not support my back and I could not get any leverage in order to sit up straighter, etc. I never used it beyond the first test and I finally sold it last week for half what I paid for it…oh well.

I also feel that canoeing is harder on my back. I can’t get nearly as comfortable as I can in my molded kayak seat with the high back…which seems to fit me perfectly.


In that case he needs to take up

Two years ago I won a real nice kayak cart in the drawing at a race - I gave it away.

This past year at the same race I won one of those raise and lower the kayak widgets. I gave it away also.



current experience
Your profile says you canoe at an intermediate level. Is there any specific reason you’d rather switch to a kayak?

From the postings thus far it would seem that you’ve got some trial runs to make. Some folk’s bad backs feel better in yaks, some better in canoes.

My solution to paddling back pain was to kneel in my canoe. Those with bad knees are kinda’ outa luck, but it works for me. Better than seat backs, better than WS Phase III adjustable kayak seats, (both of which I’ve spent considerable time with). It forces the natural curve into my spine and prevents the lower-back pain I was encountering.

As stated, the most potentially back-wrenching part of paddling tends to be getting the boat to and from the water. But like anything else, there’s work-arounds to that.

Why are you asking here?
With how complex a back problem can be, you need to seek professional medical answers.

Back help
Don’t Laugh - Ginger is a natural anti-inflamatory. I have cured tennis elbow and some other achs and pains with it. There’s complete hard bound books on Ginger. I cut a slice the size of a nickle and eat it every day. It beats drugs. In about two weeks you’ll see a major difference. If you need a drug, take it. But it’s not curing the problem.

Exercise and regular stretching (gentle Yoga) will help if not eleviate all your pains eventually. Your body can heal but it takes time and care.

WOW…Thanks for all the replys…I appreciated all the info and advice and will start by going out and renting one to see what happens,Maybe see the doctor first…lol…I am just back to work after being off for 18 months so you can see I am tired of them…Thanks again…Bob

One of the postings in this thread mentioned a book called “Treat Your Own Back”. That and “Treat Your Own Neck” were written by Robin McKenzie (Spinal Publications New Zealand, Ltd.; ISBN 0-9597746-6-1). I suggest that you add these two books to your library. McKenzie is a physiotherapist who says that, in most cases, you can, and should, take personal responsibility for the health of your back; and he suggests how to do it.

Personally, I have had periodic chiropractic maintenance for more than twenty years (I’m 77), and I have found that, after a few weeks of kayaking in my WS Tempest 170 Pro, my back feels a lot better than when I started the season. I think that exercise is good for your back, at least for mine.

Try it; I’ll bet you’ll like it.

Can I have your next prize?
Hey JackL . . . can I have whatever you win next?